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ISTE 2017: A Song of Ice and Fire

The Wainhouse Research Blog

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on Unified Communications & Collaboration


ISTE 2017: A Song of Ice and Fire

By: -
8 Jul 2017

Winter’s Coming. You might not have felt it at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference, held in humid, 95-degree San Antonio.  Some 16,000 educators, 550 vendors (I was told, have not verified), and plenty of Edtech media showed up to demo, learn, share best practices, and drink margaritas.

But the Game of Thrones continues!  You guys know I like to pull in GoT whenever I get a chance – remember, Panopto and Kaltura?  The seven kingdoms now have many forces on the march.  Who owns the devices and classroom teaching and learning software?  Apple?  Microsoft? Google?  Cisco? Who owns the LMS front?  Canvas, Schoology, D2L, Blackboard, and about 30 other exhibitors jostled for K-12 mindshare.   Who owns interactive whiteboards and the concept of ideation?  SMART, Promethean, eBeam, Nureva, and about 30 other vendors (of course including Microsoft, Google, and Cisco) were sharing their wares.  Let’s not forget several new Edtech fronts that didn’t even exist a few years ago, namely virtual / augmented reality, drones, and the maker movement!

There’s so much going on this year my best is to just share some of the highlights for me and things I picked up on in all kinds of random ways.  I’ll start with the Flying Behemoths.

  • I wrote my first take about Microsoft’s return to the Edtech battlefront last month – and sure enough, they had one of the largest, most fun booths you can imagine.  What’s not to like about their demos of Excel live-feeds of data from volcanoes and from hot wheels spinning across race tracks, all in the name of teaching science?  Seriously, Microsoft is serious.  Using OneNote as a key element of a free Office 365 for Education, toss in a bit of MS Teams, salt with some Minecraft: Education Edition, intro some new Win 10 Education PCs and a new Surface Laptop, and sprinkle some InTune for Education and you have a rich stew offering.  Where Microsoft’s presence at previous ISTE’s has been ho-hum to me, this year their booth was humming. A final note: when I wrote about Microsoft last month I had not seen the work these guys put into LMS integrations. Let me just say my jaw dropped at how easy it is for an instructor to simply pull on a dropdown menu and select any of the major and many of the minor education-focused LMS platforms on the market.  When I visit their website, I’m finding a bit of clutter and it’s not so easy to figure out their LMS-ability except from their own Classroom product.  Nonetheless, score on this one: Microsoft 1, everybody else 0.

Figure 1: Microsoft Booth Traffic                           Figure 2: Microsoft Hot Wheels!

  • I got my first hands-on experience with Google’s Jamboard.  Let me just say one thing before you think I’m pouring molasses over all of these vendors (and see my comments about Promethean below).  It’s not the BEST interactive flat panel I have touched.  But it’s probably number two.  Maybe that’ll upset the fine folks at Google but I was clear about what I liked: simplicity, responsiveness, and seamless integration with the Googleverse.  Number one shall remain a secret that I’ll share some other day.
  • Apple? Can’t say I know ‘em. They don’t exhibit on the show floor, but they do have a huge presence by holding attendee sessions where they cover best practices. Of course, they also don’t compete with Google, Microsoft, or Cisco for interactive and telecom-related technologies.   But I put them on the playing field because they remain a force.  And there is that Apple-Cisco partnership related to iOS and Wi-Fi.
  • Cisco’s presence included its SparkBoard, Digital Education Platform, Cisco Cloud Security products, and Meraki cloud managed networking solutions.  The more I learn about what they are doing with security, the better I sleep at night. I should mention I don’t sleep that well at night – they can’t address every piece of ransomware and hack attack taking place in the universe – certainly not at my house, unless AT&T were to surprise me. But things some data hounds think are not solvable, like finding and addressing malware on encrypted networks, is available via its Encrypted Traffic Analytics subscription service.  (This is not trivial: you’ve got to look at the behavior of encrypted data without looking at the data itself.  The importance: no self-respecting CIO or Director of IT at a school is going to part with data privacy.)

On to the LMS. Shiver me timbers, never have I seen this many LMS providers at ISTE.  While the term is less prevalent in K-12, the category’s functionality has been handled previously via printed textbooks and online content and Student Information Systems.  Most LMS providers were listed in the “e-Learning Management Systems” category, but once Google got into the business of providing Apps and Classroom, the K-12 push was on.  The idea of most of these providers is to be compatible with LTI and Common Cartridge standards, embrace Open Educational Resources (OER) content and tools, and hug (not reject) Google Classroom and the Microsoft eco-classroom.

  • Canvas showed me a demo of its K-12 LMS, with a lot of dynamically selectable features that can be configured by a user (ergo teacher) and customized to the appropriate grade level.  Assignments can be made based on class periods or student level, with various paths to mastery.  Canvas is placing emphasis on that ole bugaboo, notifications (every school struggles with how to make them available, how much user control to provide, how many formats to use) and the company appears to be placing special emphasis on freeing students to work outside of the classroom. (Just like everybody else.)  And of course, badging and e-Portfolios are part of its platform capabilities.
  • D2L, Blackboard, and Schoology all had booths of various sizes and shapes. Part of the deal at ISTE is to show off partners, present or be a part of sessions, and run round the clock booth demos. As an example: Schoology presented with Microsoft, Safari Montage (“canned,” streaming video content provider we’ve covered in the past), and Google, as well as on topics like gamification, assessments, and personalized learning for young students.  D2L was back after a few years absence and based on what I’ve seen of their Higher Education platform most recently and fresh interest in the corporate markets, they have plenty of functionality for K-12 – especially when it comes to learner-generated content and handling of video.  They’re asking the right questions as they strategize how to take a solid platform and drive awareness in new markets.

On to the interactive whiteboards, flat panels, and ideation. 

  • SMART Technologies is back.  Maybe they never left but the Foxconn acquisition has had them quieter than usual.  Besides the show floor exhibit area, SMART had a private suite with a bunch of future goodies.  Officially announced: a partnership with Tes, a digital education company that supports more than 8 million educators in 197 countries, that includes launching an online space that gives educators and education leaders tools and ideas for inspiring greatness and improving learning outcomes.  Also official: teaming with Choose2Matter to co-sponsor development of the Mattering Quotient (MQ). What’s this you ask?  It’s an algorithm being developed by a research team of Ph.D. students out of the University of Denver designed to help measure student perceptions of their own importance, contribution, belonging and impact.  The goal?  Let’s do some longitudinal work – long-range work – to help learners really build on the concept of personalized learning and competency-based learning – and provide (this is my take only so I could be wrong) a foundational buttress support layer.  So many Learning Relationship Managers and e-Portfolios and general learning tools don’t measure actual learner self-perceptions.  The jury’s out but as a student of the arcane and the specific piece parts that make learning work, I like it.
  • Nureva showed me some futures coming out within the next week or so (Span Software Release 7) and I really like the clean interface and some new capabilities. What started out as an enterprise, corporate product indeed has legs in education.  Coming features: sharing a desktop or specific application from a PC to a Span canvas; sharing of four to six screens simultaneously; manipulation of those said shared screens; embedded hyperlinks that can be connected to a note, sketch, text box or image; and “quick notes” that provides immediate access to frequently-used functions.

Figure 3: Nureva Screen Shots

  • Promethean is scrambling still.  I’ve always found them to be a mess – yes, it’s ok to point out vendors who disappoint – copying SMART but meanwhile gaining significant market share just because markets like competition.  ActivPanel, which is powered by an Android-based mini-PC (ergo NUC), got big exposure in its booth. But the company appears to me to be placing all its bets on ClassFlow (I do love that product category and think they’ve done some good work there). Big bet though.  I’m putting my money on SMART, Google, Cisco, Microsoft, and the host of commodity interactive flat panels before you’ll see me put money on Promethean.

What’s left? On to drones and VR!

  • While not core to our coverage in LTE, we do pay attention to devices that flitter about transmitting video to other devices. That’s in our DNA.  So, what fun to hang with the Parrot folks, fresh off the plane from France, and get a hands-on demo of Parrot’s suite of drones.  Here’s clever: partner with Apple (ergo Swift programming language) and Tynker, which is a “learn-to-code” platform (used by 20 million learners last time I heard), to create a “ready-to-sell-to-computer-science-educators” platform with block programming, a 10-hour coding curriculum, and bundles of drones and software. Work up the food chain (bigger drones) and you get more functionality (3D mapping and streaming video tools as well).  The applications for drones and pedagogy are endless, and we’re not just talking about computer science education.

Figure 4: Parrot Entry-Level Drone

  • More fun!  Merge VR was one of many VR vendors onsite.  Happens that Merge VR is based in San Antonio, so it was an easy stroll over with lightweight headsets and cubes and the like.  They told me they believe they were the first consumer-grade VR headset on store shelves (take that, Oculus Rift!) and at this point they have significant distribution in 11 countries and over 5,000 stores.  With their own Cube, an interactive, hand-held holographic toy, the idea is to get developers (450 signed up so far) to develop apps that work with Cube and an individual’s smartphone and supports experiential learning.   I missed a meeting with Veative but got a post-event introduction to this joint venture out of India and the middle east.  Veative is a joint venture of Piron and Almotahida and so far has published over 400 VR learning modules, primarily science and math content for middle and high schools.  The idea is to offer this content as supplementary materials where 3D conceptualization might help.  Veative's pricing consists of two major plans: a large plan that runs about $10,000 USD annually and includes 30 headsets and all of the content, and a smaller plan that consists of eight headsets at $3,500 per year.  They also sell the content at a much lower rate to schools already using Google Expeditions.  Many of you know I remain cautious about VR, more bullish about augmented reality, and here we go: time will tell.  There are use cases for both.  We must now pass through the entire buy cycle with both VR and AR and drones: early adopters figure them out and develop apps, they start to get viral in schools and among personal learning networks (PLNs), and eventually somebody in purchasing or Visionary Leadership figures out it’s time to buy in bulk and get programmatic.  Meantime, you all can beat me up with spaghetti noodles in 2020 if VR is beating AR in Edtech.

Figure 5: Alan with MergeVR Headset                           Figure 6: MergeVR Cube

Noticeably missing: on the PC front, Dell and HP were nowhere to be seen, though I well remember the days those two were dominant forces at ISTE.  Methinks tablets and Chromebooks explain their absence, even though there were dozens of “computing equipment” vendors exhibiting.  And remember that quaint thing called classroom video conferencing? It’s apparent Polycom – for so long a leader -- has abandoned the educational vertical.  Maybe we live in a universe in which Microsoft, Google, and Cisco will be the holy triad of video in education?  Nah ... I’m still thinking there’s some room for education-focused companies like Zoom and BlueJeans and the cloud. There’s room for plenty of players when it comes to delivery of pureplay video.

I’ll wrap up my ISTE 2017 coverage with two final points.  Those involved in ed policy at the elected official level (IMHO) are like the White Walkers. If you don’t know the show: ghastly creatures that want to take away all we have.  From the cold north.  Behind the wall protecting the kingdoms -- one that we know won’t last.  I could say something about politicians trying to make policy about stuff they don’t understand, but you know – that would be too simple.  Instead, just imagine a world in which John Snow never got past his strategy and swordplay classes.  Now you know how important are the combo of Edtech and teachers!

Figure 7: Budget Cutting State Politician South of the Wall

Finally: Richard Culatta. The new CEO for ISTE.  He’s asking the right questions: how do we use tech to lead to student innovation and creation?  How do we create community and the future of Professional Development for teachers? Someone else in a press breakfast I attended asked the same question I had: how do we get ISTE more outward-facing, to the masses of teachers who are not drinking the Kool-Aid of Edtech?  Not to get them to drink more Kool-Aid from the fountain, but to help eliminate the digital divide and right-size tech.  It’s not a panacea for good teaching. But it sure can help make a good teaching environment even better. ISTE introduced this year new standards for educators in terms of how they empower learners, using technology. Separately, I was pleased to hear that Richard wants media to do a better job of telling a nuanced story about the impact of technology. I’m here for ya, buddy!  As were my new buds from EdSurge and edscoop.  How about let’s dump some Kool-Aid on some of these state legislatures? Yes, I'm provincially referring to the U.S. of A. that have taken budget cutting to a new low art form.